GEOG 30
Geographic Perspectives on Sustainability and Human-Environment Systems

Sustainable Urban Development and Urban Farming

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Here, we’ll look at some examples of how sustainable urban development has been achieved.

Urban Transit

Copenhagen Calms Its Traffic

Recall the "Cycling as a social norm in Copenhagen" video in Module 4. We have seen that getting people to choose transit can be a collective action problem and the choice of transport mode can be supported or constrained by urban design. Here's another video showing the efforts have been made in Copenhagen to ensure that cars do not interfere with people. This approach known as traffic calming has been highly popular in Copenhagen despite it being located in cold, snowy Denmark.

Click for a transcript of "Copenhagen's Car-Free Streets & Slow-Speed Zones" video.

JAN GEHL: In Copenhagen, we had a great influx of cars starting in the middle of the '50s. We called it "The Car Invasion." And by the early '60s, it started to be really bad.

And in 1962, it was decided to take the cars out of the main street of Copenhagen. It's a one-kilometer-long street. There was great debate and discussion, it will never work.

All this businesses of will go broke, and the weather is not good enough for being outdoors in Denmark. But it was closed anyway. That was the start of a long trek where, in small installments, improvements have been made to the pedestrian landscape to the public spaces.

IDA AUKEN: We actually have 18 squares now that used to be parking lots. And when they started shutting them down, and when they made the main pedestrian street here, people were saying, no, this is not Italy. People do not use the public space.

What are you thinking? They don't go walking like, just to take a stroll. And look what happened.

[POP MUSIC]

GIL PENALOSA: I think one of the wonderful things of pedestrian places is that they always surprise you. You don't know what's going to happen. Can we even imagine, for a second, what these pedestrian streets would be like if there were cars on it?

For example, these kids here with the hats, that's the symbol of graduation. They just finished their high school. They are graduating today.

They are going crazy. They are going into the fountains. And we see people also sitting on the floor. I mean, it's so nice and so well taken care of, that people can sit on the floors.

IDA AUKEN: People want to be with people. And that means we go where people are, where there are space for walking, for expressing yourself. For instance, yesterday I went down by the water. And in front of the Royal Theatre, there's this boardwalk. And there was outdoor tango all night.

NICOLE JENSEN: I mean, they're meeting each other. They're having a coffee. They're just chatting.

They're riding their bikes. They're walking. They're walking their dogs.

They're hanging out with their kids. Like, it's just amazing. They're just living. It's the perfect example of public space and how to do it right.

JAN GEHL: So we've seen this gradual transition of the city of Copenhagen, from a traffic-infested city to really, a people-oriented city, which is quite lovely.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

NIELS TORSLOV: The philosophy of this is that if you can keep speed down, say, 30 k or 40 k, you will not have so many accidents. And if you have accidents, they will not be very severe. So that's the basic idea, that if we want to transfer our urban environment into something for human beings, you have to reduce the speed as one of the first things. I have very few examples with the 15 k, actually.

JAN GEHL: We have a number of streets, which we call pedestrian priority streets, where pedestrians have the right of way. But you can have bicycles. You can have cars.

GIL PENALOSA: One of the reasons why it's such a wonderful, walkable place, Copenhagen, is because they have lowered the speed in all of the neighborhoods. I think that in North America, we need to create fantastic pedestrian facilities and cycling facilities along the interiors. But in the neighborhoods, we have to lower the speed below 20 miles an hour. And not only just by putting up signs, but putting up physical barriers.

NIELS TORSLOV: One of the best ways of keeping speed down is actually to use our humps. Because by the humps, you are very, very sure that the speed stays down. Because if you don't have this, you will have guys-- usually guys-- going much too fast in a low-speed area because they can.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

We are standing in front of the old meat market in Copenhagen. And some years ago, there was a lot of heavy traffic coming in, in the morning, especially. So when they closed down the meat market we were thinking, well, got to better change this street. And this is a very central part of Copenhagen. So there's a lot of people living here, and a lot of enthusiasm about also using space for everything else than traffic.

GIL PENALOSA: This is a wonderful street. And can you imagine the difference of quality of life for all of these thousands of condos? And in the middle, they'd built this fantastic park.

NIELS TORSLOV: What's left is actually only a very narrow-- we called it shared-space solutions, where cars, at a very slow speed, and also bicycles and pedestrians can move around each other without really any kind of regulation, as long as the speed is low.

GIL PENALOSA: There are some places where they've got nice benches and restaurants on the side. You go to the next block, and there is a small basketball court. And you go to the next corner, a skateboard park. And then in some of the sides, you have fruits and vegetables that are being sold on the street. And then in another block, you have flowers.

MIKAEL COLVILLE-ANDERSEN: In the Meatpacking District here, we have a lot of new bars opening up. And all the bikes that we're standing around here, it sort of looks like this outside every bar. It's an amazing social network. You ride past cafes and you see bikes parked next to the cafe. It makes the whole city accessible and very, very human.

NIELS TORSLOV: You know, these environments are very attractive for urban living. And it really attracts people to be on the street. And it also raises the price for all those apartments up here. Because this is attraction. I mean, this is urban, trendy lifestyle that we are offering here, by redesigning our street for human beings.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

JAN GEHL: We have 7,500 outdoor cafe seats, which are out for 10 months a year. As all over Europe, in a capitalistic society, if things are not good for business, they will be changed. And what we see in Denmark and all the other European countries, and we even now also see it in New York, in the Broadway area, that when these people-friendly schemes go in, the businesses actually thrive.

GIL PENALOSA: From 6:30, seven o'clock in the morning till midnight, you see people constantly, people coming by. And it's also great for the business. When they were going to create these pedestrian places, initially the retail were very much opposed to it. But afterwards, they found that the best commercial places in the city are their pedestrian streets.

MIKAEL COLVILLE-ANDERSEN: It's anthropology. It's part of the social fabric of the city, that there are pedestrians and cyclists all around you at all time. It's human. This adds an amazing level of social community to a city. And I really think that this is one of the main reasons that Copenhagen is, time after time, selected as one of the world's most livable cities.

IDA AUKEN: I can't even imagine what would happen if somebody said hey, let's turn this square into a parking lot. That would be drama in Copenhagen. So as soon as you win it back, the public space, win it back for human beings and pedestrians, then it's ours and you can't take it away again.

By now, Copenhagen’s traffic calming program has been so successful for so long that people often take it for granted that Copenhagen just is this way. Walking and, in particular, cycling has become very deeply embedded in Copenhagen’s culture. This can be seen in the popular blog Cycle Chic, which looks at the fashions of Copenhagen cyclists. The idea of bicycle chic has spread to other parts of the world, including the United States. All this helps establish walking and cycling as a social norm in Copenhagen, such that people there would find it unusual to drive places.

Curitiba Blossoms With Buses

You may have never heard of it before, but Curitiba, Brazil has the best bus system in the world. The city today has about 2 million people, about the same size as Phoenix, Arizona. Indeed, Curitiba and Phoenix have had about the same population for the last 200 years. But while Phoenix was designed predominantly for the automobile, Curitiba was designed for the bus. Curitiba chose the bus because it could not easily afford to build a subway system. By designing the city around the bus, it found it could get subway-quality performance for a fraction of the cost.

At the heart of Curitiba’s bus system is a series of bus rapid transit routes on dedicated streets going into the city center. These bus lines have stations where passengers pay before getting on the bus, expediting the process considerably. During peak hours, buses run about one minute apart from each other, so riders don’t have to wait a long time. Curitiba zoned the bus lines for high-density development to increase the number of people who could easily ride these buses, thereby making them more effective. Check out the video below for further details about Curitiba's public transit system:

Bogota Gets Its Exercise

In the American imagination, the South American nation of Colombia is commonly associated with the drug trade. But Colombian drug cartels are fading. Meanwhile, Colombia has been very active in sustainable development. In one example of this, its capital city, Bogota, has emerged as the world leader in weekly car-free events known as Ciclovias.

The Bogota Ciclovia happens every Sunday and holiday. Cars are forbidden or significantly restricted on 120 km (75 miles) of streets. In general, the presence of automobiles on our streets is a threat not only to the environment but also to children and anyone else wishing to use the streets. The streets can then be used safely and comfortably for cycling, walking, and skating. The streets also feature dances, aerobics, and other outdoors activities. The Ciclovia is a way for people of all walks of life to get some exercise and fresh air. Today, similar events can be found across the world, but none are as large as Bogota’s.

Click for a transcript of "Street Films" video.

PARTICIPANT: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

PARTICIPANT: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

CICLOVIA WORKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

KARLA QUINTERO: So it's 2 o'clock today and the Ciclovia is almost over. We've had a really long day. We got up at 5:00 in the morning and we got to see how it all started, everything from packing up the vendor stations in the trucks to barricading the streets and closing it to cars. It was pretty light traffic at the beginning because the weather wasn't so great, but at about 8 o'clock it started getting packed. It's a really beautiful way to see the city. There's just tons of people, all different kinds, all different ages. There's even a segment called the Recreovia, and this is absolutely great because they have about 20 stages with aerobics instructors and rhumba instructors, and they're giving free classes to any citizen that wants to participate. It's really something beautiful to see.

CICLOVIA WORKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

GUILLERMO PENALOSA: When we were starting the Ciclovia, when I was commissioner of parks, sports, and recreation, we were going to increase from 13k, which is about 8 miles, to over 90k. And we needed a lot of people to work on it. So we put an ad in the paper saying we need supervisors of the Ciclovia and these are the requirements. We got 20 resumes and we were expecting over 200.

So at the time the number one program on Colombian's TV was Baywatch, so we put an ad in the paper saying we need Bikewatch. Tall, handsome, athletic, blah, blah, blah, and we got 1500 resumes, which shows that social marketing works. And so now these people are called Bikewatch, and they're like the managers of the Ciclovia.

CICLOVIA WORKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

CICLOVIA WORKER: It's the biggest program around the world. And doing sport 120 kilometers in a city is so different, it's strange. And always we are as university students. And it's a good job because we have enough time for that kind of labor.

CICLOVIA WORKER: This is beautiful, man, because we work for the city. Everybody smiles at you. This is very beautiful work.

KARLA QUINTERO: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

CICLOVIA WORKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

[MUSIC PLAYING]

CICLOVIA WORKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

KARLA QUINTERO: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

PARTICIPANT: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

CICLOVIA WORKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

CICLOVIA WORKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

CICLOVIA WORKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

GUILLERMO PENALOSA: The obesity rate in the US have skyrocketed. Almost every state has obesity. Not overweight. Obesity. And how else can you get thousands and thousands of people doing physical activity? So then the infrastructure is there. It's free. The roads are already there. All you've got to do is close it. You need operational costs to set it up, and then you can get this fantastic idea, which is like a party that everybody attends. The rich and the poor, and the young and the old, and everybody.

PARTICIPANT: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

CICLOVIA WORKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

CICLOVIA WORKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

CICLOVIA WORKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

PARTICIPANT: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

[DANCE MUSIC PLAYING]

KARLA QUINTERO: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

PARTICIPANT: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

CICLOVIA WORKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

CICLOVIA WORKER: In the Recreovia we have different activities from 8 o'clock to 1:00 o'clock. The first station that we have is a basic aerobics class. The second class is stretching. The next class is class for children. In the classes for children we practice with the parents and the children, activities with music.

KARLA QUINTERO: How excited do people get?

CICLOVIA WORKER: A lot. They are very happy. That prefer come here instead of being in the house.

CICLOVIA WORKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

KARLA QUINTERO: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

CICLOVIA WORKER: I give classes.

KARLA QUINTERO: You give?

CICLOVIA WORKER: I'm the teacher.

KARLA QUINTERO: Of which one?

CICLOVIA WORKER: All the classes. This is the uniform. [LAUGHS]

[MUSIC PLAYING]

CICLOVIA WORKER: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

GUILLERMO PENALOSA: A lot of cities are thinking of doing activities like Ciclovia. Guadalajara started only two years ago with eight miles, and now they are at 16 miles. Santiago, Chile started. In Paris, France they close down roads. In Ottawa in Canada there is, like, 35 miles of Ciclovia on Sundays from May to September. So I think that there are some cities in the US that are thinking about it, such as Baltimore, Cleveland, Chicago, Portland, New York. And this is something that any city could do, cities of 50,000 people or cities of 10 million people. 

STREETFILMS

Urban Farming

Urban farming can take a variety of forms but, conceptually speaking, it refers to crop and livestock production within cities and surroundings. Urban farming (also known as urban agriculture) takes advantage of every inch of private or public space and can involve anything from rooftop farming to balcony gardening, from farming in parking lots to farming along roadsides. Urban farming plays a large part in contributing to sustainable urban development. As more and more people are living in cities, urban agriculture is emerging as an attractive means of supplying urbanites with food. At the same time, urban farming is an important strategy for reduction of hunger and poverty, improvement in resident health, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Detroit (and the state of Michigan generally) makes a good case study for urban agriculture. Watch the short video below to see how urban farming as the second green revolution helps communities in food deserts (places with no grocery stores offering fresh produce) access more affordable and healthier food and allows people to make a living by selling their food on local markets.

Click for a transcript of "America Revealed" video.

 

PRESENTER: I've dragged myself out of bed at 5 o'clock in the morning to help a man aptly named Will Gardner get his product to market. Hey, what's up man? Will is one of thousands of small scale farmers across the US reviving the homestead ideal.

WILL GARDNER: You don't want to get too close to the soil line, because I want the growth to still continue. So I just chop it off right here. You know, it is pretty tasty. A lot of people at the market love it.

PRESENTER: This is real back to basics farming, and some think, part of a new Green Revolution. How did you get into this in the first place?

WILL GARDNER: I just wanted to save money. You know, eat healthier. I figured it would be a lot cheaper for me to grow the vegetables that we eat on a daily basis in my backyard. You know, simple stuff. And it just became addictive. They're very tasty.

PRESENTER: Do you use any pesticides?

WILL GARDNER: No, just compost man. I put a lot of compost down.

PRESENTER: I should have asked you that before I stuck that in my mouth. The amazing thing is, we're not in deepest rural Pennsylvania, or even suburban New Jersey. This is where Will farms. The inner city of Detroit. Among its many problems, this area is a food desert, a place where it's hard to find groceries, let alone fresh produce. Although the surrounding neighborhood looks like an urban war zone, in fact, it's reverting to its rural state.

This is an aerial photograph of the packed landscape of central Detroit 70 years ago, at the height of its industrial boom. As a city's economic fortunes decline, an estimated 44,000 lots of that land have been abandoned, quietly turning into green space, where 16,000 urban farmers, like Will, are now planting the seeds of an alternative agriculture.

WILL GARDNER: It's a great feeling. I feel that I'm part of something big that's happening in the city. It's more personal. People come down here and volunteer just to be able to connect with your farmer.

PRESENTER: And that connection extends right into the heart of the city. $4 ma'am, thank you very much. Eastern Market in downtown Detroit, where Will sells his produce, is the biggest of its kind in America. Watermelon, salad greens, fresh kale, picked this morning. And after half an hour, immersed in the amazing vibe of this place, I realized how different this approach to feeding people is from what I've seen on my journey.

Picked fresh from a local garden run by my friend Will. Local, where the food machine is global. Organic, rather than powered by chemistry and genetics. And produced on a grassroots rather than industrial scale.

ASHLEY ATKINSON: I think it's great there are alternative ways that we produce the majority of the fruits and vegetables that Detroiters need to be healthy.

PRESENTER: Ashley Atkinson runs Greening of Detroit, a nonprofit that promotes urban farming. Not so much as a lifestyle, but as a way for both farmers and customers to thrive.

ASHLEY ATKINSON: Local farmers, Michigan farmers, don't have a lot of resources to compete with industrial agriculture. And places like this actually bring together consumers and producers trying to not only provide fresh fruits and vegetables to the community, but make a living.

PRESENTER: Is it working?

ASHLEY ATKINSON: It is working. Absolutely. It's even more of a powerful argument for how important urban agriculture is for the city of Detroit.

PRESENTER: There's something kind of nice about this reconnection of land and people. And local organic food is reshaping diets not just here, but all across the country. How far it can ultimately go, however, is open to question. 

PBS

Urban farming can take place basically anywhere. Check out the video below and find out interesting facts about growing food in recycled car tires in Haiti. On one side, urban farming is a response to food and livelihood insecurity. On the other side, urban farming grows a greener future because food grown locally requires less transportation (or fewer food miles) and therefore reduces ecological footprint.

Click for a transcript of "Haiti Urban Agriculture" video.

SPEAKER 1: From United Nations Television, this is UN in Action.

SPEAKER 2: [INAUDIBLE] is a district of Carrefour Feuilles in Haiti and is undergoing some major changes. It's becoming greener.

For some months now, recycled car tires have become ever present fixtures on the roofs and gardens of homes, from which all kinds of vegetables and spices are growing.

They are part of a project called Urban Agriculture. The goal is to fight against food insecurity.

[? Arnesia ?] Boss, a single mother, is one of the beneficiaries.

SPEAKER 3: Sometimes I wake up in the morning, I have bread, and I could make a soap for the children. But I had to buy vegetables. Now, I can just take them from the garden. This helps a lot and improves the living conditions of the children and the whole family.

SPEAKER 2: With support from local partners, Oxfam, a nonprofit organization assisting the UN stabilization mission, MINUSTAH, with several projects, began setting up a nursery here a year ago.

Peleg Charles, media and communication officer from Oxfam.

SPEAKER 4: We see success in other countries that used urban agriculture to combat food insecurity. On one hand, we help to improve food security in the households. And on the other hand, we help the population to participate in the protection of the environment.

SPEAKER 2: About 100 people, including [? Arnesia, ?] receive seeds, seedlings, agricultural tools, as well as training to grow plants in car tires. Over the past year, Oxfam has purchased nearly 6,000 car tires and over 60,000 seedlings, part of a cooperative effort with several UN agencies to improve food supplies in the country.

Herbs and 10 different kinds of vegetables, such as tomatoes, beets, carrots, and eggplants, are growing in urban gardens. Many are relying on them as an alternative means for enhancing food security and improving livelihood.

SPEAKER 3: From what is growing in my garden, I could also make a living. At the moment, I'm only consuming, but I also want to sell them. Soon I would like to see my garden grow, providing not just food, but also income for the family.

SPEAKER 2: For [? Arnesia, ?] who lives with five children and without a big income, urban agriculture is a blessing. While she will get the seeds and car tires for free from the project for two years, she is already preparing herself for the next step-- creating a garden in her own backyard and learning how to manage it.

This report was produced by Sandra Miller for the United Nations. 

United Nations

Consider This: Urban Agriculture In Cuba

Earlier in this course, we learned that the Green Revolution was, in part, an effort by capitalist countries in the Cold War to get Third World countries to side with them. The Soviet Union was also active in providing agriculture aid to Third World countries such as Cuba.

The world’s largest urban agriculture program comes from Cuba. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Cuba lost its source of aid and thus faced food shortages. As a way to cope, Cuba turned to urban agriculture as a way to feed itself. This agriculture is performed almost entirely without artificial fertilizers and pesticides, simply because Cuba lacks access to these inputs. In some ways, this makes Cuba’s national agriculture system more sustainable and less vulnerable to disruptions in the supplies of these inputs. On the other hand, this system involves more labor and lower yields than is often found elsewhere. Still, as with Cuba’s overall development, much can be learned from its agriculture system.

Check out this Youtube video by Kitchen Gardeners International (http://KGI.org):

 

Click for a transcript of "Havanna Homegrown" video.

 

ROGER DOIRON: Hi, this is Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International. I recently had a chance to travel to Havana, Cuba to study its urban farms and gardens as part of a research tour organized by the Kellogg Fellows Leadership Alliance. That's me there, trying to look like an international researcher. You might be asking, why go to Havana for such an experience.

Most people associate Cuba with another type of revolution, the Communist Revolution led by Fidel Castro in the late 50's. And when they do think of a Cuban agricultural product they can put in their mouths, they're much more likely to think of a cigar than a carrot. But Cuba offers a unique case study for local foods advocates in that it is not only an island nation in terms of its geography, but also its economy and politics as a result of being cut off from the world by two important historical events. The first was the embargo imposed upon Cuba by the United States in the early 60's, and which remains in place to this day, making it difficult for Cubans to obtain many products that we take for granted. The second event was the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 which absolutely decimated Cuba's economy.

The Soviet Union had been Cuba's largest source of both trade and aid, and when the Berlin Wall fell, Cuba's exports and imports fell with it, plummeting by 80%. The Cuban government euphemistically referred to the years after 1991 as the so-called Special Period, but the hungry period would have been a more accurate term. Essential items, such as food, medicine, and gasoline, were in critically short supply. There was an old joke in Cuba that soon after Castro seized power in 1959 the signs at the Havana Zoo changed from "Please don't feed the animals" to "Please don't eat the animal's food." And when the special period began in '91, the old joke changed again, taking on an even more unappetizing flavor. But for those who lived through the special period, it was anything but a laughing matter.

Cubans daily caloric intake dropped by nearly one third, leading to an average weight loss of 20 pounds per person. Although history has played its share of cruel jokes on Cuba, there are some who think that a city like Havana might end up having the last laugh. The experience of living through the special period has forced Havanans to become more resilient, self-reliant, and innovative in their food production. Organic farms and community gardens, known as organoponicos, can now be found throughout the city. Nearly all the seasonal fruit and vegetables consumed by Havana's two million residents are being sourced from gardens and farms located within 30 miles of Havana.

Fossil fuel powered farm machinery is being replaced by people power and animal power, which are more appropriate technologies for the small scale of agriculture typically found in and around cities. Synthetic fertilizers are being replaced by organic compost and animal manure. Monocultures and the synthetic pesticides they require are being replaced with better and more diverse agricultural systems and practices. And perhaps most important of all, small scale organic farmers and gardeners are being seen as critical to Cuba's Homeland Security and are being valued accordingly. For example, growers of healthy organic fruits and vegetables, like this one I met, are paid three times more than doctors in Cuba, offering a fresh foreign perspective on one way of achieving health care reform.

I came away from the trip feeling inspired, but my enthusiasm was also tempered by the knowledge that I'd seen but a part of a larger and more complex story. Despite its advances in urban agriculture, Cuba still remains heavily dependent on imports of rice, wheat, and dairy products, and the antiquated Soviet Era food rationing regime, put in place in the early 60's, continues today. In fact, when you visit Havana and you see it's crumbling colonial buildings and vintage cars, you can't help feel a bit like a time traveler. But when it comes to sustainable urban agriculture, however, a trip to Havana may well be a trip to the future.

Like a cab ride down Havana's timeworn cobblestone streets in a '57 Chevy with no shocks, the journey to sustainable food security is going to be a bumpy ride. If we do look to Havana's urban farms and gardens as one vision for the future, the real question becomes, what's the best road to take to get there. The one question we can't afford to debate is whether or not to get started down this road. , With over a billion hungry people in the world and more people on the way, the globe's special period has already begun, and the time to start that journey is now. 

 

 

From previous pages, we learned that urban design involves collective action if a city is to be developed in some coordinated fashion. Likewise, the urban sustainable development process involves a mix of government regulations, private market forces, and community mobilization.